Irene Samwel Chimwaga, a 17-year-old student at Maila Secondary School in Chamwino District, Tanzania, dreams of becoming a doctor. Her favorite subjects are physics, chemistry, biology and math.
Until a few weeks ago, though, it was difficult for Irene to study those subjects — or anything else — in the evening because her school had no adequate light source. During the national examination period, things got particularly difficult, as students and teachers had to prepare for those exams after dark using only the low light of kerosene lamps.
Now, thanks to a partnership between Pittsburgh-based Classrooms Without Borders, the Israeli non-profit Innovation: Africa and some local high school students from Shady Side Academy and Pittsburgh Allderdice, Chimwaga and her classmates now have the light they need to study and prepare as they wish any time of the day.
“I can walk even going to classes at night to study because the whole school compound is surrounded by light and my dream of being a doctor will be attained due to availability of light at our school,” Chimwaga wrote in an email.
More than 620 million people in Africa lack access to electricity, a challenge that is being addressed by Innovation: Africa through the installation of Israeli solar technology. Innovation: Africa hires and trains locals to construct and maintain the solar systems, providing employment opportunities in the region as well.
Innovation: Africa also installs solar pumps to help solve the water shortage by pumping water that is trapped below the ground in the aquifers in regions where there is drought and hunger.
In the past 10 years, Innovation: Africa has brought Israeli solar, agricultural and water technologies to more than 200 projects in 10 African countries. Each project is tracked live by Israeli remote monitoring technology.
The Pittsburgh fundraising campaign was initiated by Classrooms Without Borders as a way for student participants of past CWB trips to help improve the world.
When Tsipy Gur, executive director and founder of CWB, heard about the work of Innovation: Africa, “she immediately connected with their mission,” said Melissa Haviv, assistant director of CWB.
“It’s a wonderful project to help support Israel, and beyond Israel, using Israeli technology to bring water and electricity to remote villages in Africa,” Haviv said. “It’s a way to connect our kids to Israel in a very unique and effective way.”
CWB alumni and their friends — Brock Glimcher, Maya Groff, George Grune, Gabriella Boyiadzis, Noam Pishoto and Olivia Rosenberg — joined forces with the Black Student Union at Pittsburgh Allderdice to raise $18,000 to bring electricity to the village. Michele Halloran, a teacher who advises the BSU, had traveled to Poland with CWB and was eager to get her group involved with the fundraiser.
More than 10 members of the BSU participated, said senior Gia Gibson, president of BSU.
“When we first heard about it, we were excited about it because Black Student Union’s goal is to bridge gaps between black and white students, students who come from money and students who don’t come from money, to empower students of color,” she said.
“This was a good opportunity to help people in need and show students at the Black Student Union —particularly the younger students — they can have a role in this world and help people.”
The BSU held a student versus teacher basketball game, for which hundreds of students bought tickets, and raised $1,300.
“Black Student Union worked so hard, and we were so excited,” Gibson continued. “There are two African students in Black Student Union who just moved recently to America. We had those students to connect with, and to experience this through them — to be able to help their home, and to help them help their home. It was an amazing experience, and we bonded over it.”
George Grune, a friend of CWB alum Brock Glimcher, and a junior at Shady Side Academy, was eager to join the project once he took a look at the Innovation: Africa website, and saw that “the company had touched so many people in Africa already.”
He liked the idea of donating to a specific school, he said. “It was something I couldn’t pass up. It’s absolutely unbelievable. This project affected specific people.”
He was moved after reading the testimonial email from Chimwaga.
“I’ve always liked helping people,” Grune said. “This is the first thing I’ve done with that kind of impact. It’s a feeling I want to have again.”
In addition to raising $18,000 for electricity, a single local donor contributed $50,000 to bring water to the village as well.
“You can just see the joy and the happiness on the faces of so many of these students,” said Genna Brand, director of communications for Innovation: Africa. “Over 300 students now have access to light in their school. It’s a basic human right and, unfortunately, they didn’t have it before, but they have it now, thanks to Classrooms Without Borders, who have been just such wonderful partners.”
For many of the communities that Innovation: Africa helps, the installation of electricity and water is their first introduction to Israel.
“We are very proud that we are not only using Israeli technologies, but we are very proud to be, in most cases, the first face of Israel that many of these communities see in Africa,” Brand said. “We work in very rural communities, and when they see us, we are very proud to say we came from Israel, and these villagers think their prayers have been answered. They welcome us with open arms, and share blessings with us. It’s an amazing feeling.
“In most cases, some don’t know exactly where Israel is, but if they have heard of it before, it’s usually from church, from the Bible. Many of them are very religious. So truly, when they see us and hear that we are from Israel, they are just over the moon with excitement and joy and praise, and it is such a beautiful partnership. PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at